Blue Springs South senior Kevin Puryear leaped to his right, absorbed contact from a pair of defenders and secured a loose rebound tightly in his arms. The clock reached zero only a split-second later, and Puryear sprinted down the floor in a disorderly rush that he only faintly remembers.
This is how the Jaguars’ leading scorer celebrated a two-point victory against Nixa last Saturday, clinching the school’s first trip to the Missouri Class 5 state semifinals in program history. Blue Springs South will meet St. Louis University High School at 2:30 p.m. today in Columbia.
“I’m just going to enjoy it,” Puryear said. “Because I had a lot of people tell me we wouldn’t get here — a lot of people tell me that I wouldn’t get here unless I changed.”
That motivation dates back two years, when Puryear’s college recruitment entered its full-court-press stage. A bevy of Division I coaches expressed interest in the 6-foot-7 power forward, but they offered not-so-subtle advice on how he could — or should — tweak his game to better fit their systems.
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Puryear took it to heart. He was 9 years old when he first thought of playing college basketball, after he attended AAU tournaments and saw coaches lined along the baseline. He imagined they came to see him.
Those coaches called, texted and wrote him years later, but they wanted the multi-dimensional lefty to adapt his style to fit a wing player. Over the ensuing summer, which followed a dazzling sophomore season with Blue Springs South, he ditched his low-post workouts in favor of ball-handling drills.
It didn’t go well.
“I was a wreck,” he said. “When I was hearing all these things, I was trying to change who I was. That guy, he wasn’t me.”
The stress carried into his junior season with the Jaguars, a factor so palpable that Blue Springs South coach Jimmy Cain brought Puryear into his office for a midseason conversation.
The message was straightforward.
“When he decided to just play his game, and he understood there was going to be a school that loves his game for what it is, I think the pressure was just lifted off his shoulders,” Cain said. “He’s quit worrying about what people think of him.”
His home state school eventually came calling, too.
Puryear was Missouri coach Kim Anderson’s first commitment, and Puryear signed his letter of intent in November. Puryear says Anderson hasn’t asked him to change a thing — a component that stuck with him during the recruiting process.
And the Jaguars have reaped the benefits.
Puryear leads the team in scoring, averaging nearly 21 points per game, and brings down nine rebounds per contest. On his dad’s advice, he developed the outside game when he was a fifth-grader. On his high school coach’s advice, he made sure the low-post game stuck, too.
“What makes Kevin such a winner is that he can do a little bit of everything,” Cain said. “There’s not one thing in his game that you say, ‘He can’t do that.’
“We’ve played our entire postseason against Division I athletes, and they can leave you in awe with certain things they do, but as far as the full body of work, Kevin is as good or better as anybody in the state.”
Time well tell. The next two days, anyway.
Puryear and the Jaguars set a goal before the season to capture the school’s first state championship, but they enter the state semifinals as an underdog. Chaminade and Jayson Tatum, the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the junior class, potentially await on the other side of the bracket. First, Chaminade will face Park Hill South in the semifinals.
Park Hill South has won 14 straight games. Chaminade features three starters 6-8 or taller, and Puryear has been told he would have to play big should the two teams meet.
But first things first. An entirely different role will likely be required today against a SLUH team that pushes the ball up and down the floor at an often frantic pace.
And that adaptation suits Puryear just fine.
“I kept my options open, so I can do whatever my team needs from me,” Puryear said. “I realized it’s not about pleasing other people and trying to impress the scouts. I just want to bring home a state championship.”